Women More Likely To Die From Heart Attack If Treated By Men

Women who are treated by a male doctor after a heart attack are more likely to die, according to US research, which experts say could be relevant to Australians.

The research, which came from Harvard University on Monday, involved a study of more than 500,000 patients admitted to emergency departments in Florida for acute heart attack over a two decade period.

The survival rates of patients depended on whether the treating doctor’s gender matched that of the patient, the researchers at Harvard University found.

Male doctors with more exposure to female patients and doctors have greater success treating female patients, the research said.

Meanwhile, both male and female patients experienced similar outcomes when treated by male doctors.

A large body of Australian and global medical evidence already suggests that women are disproportionately at risk of death from heart attack than men, with one woman dying every hour of every day from a heart attack in Australia.  

Leading Australian cardiologists say that the Harvard finding could also have relevance in an Australian context.

Professor Gary Jennings AO, cardiologist and chief medical advisor at the Heart Foundation, said that the finding, that women have better health outcomes when treated by women, “could well be” relevant to Australians.

“It is very plausible people are more comfortable with more sympathetic care for the same gender but may also apply to people of same ethnic background given the diversity in Australia,” he said.

Jennings noted that Australian medical research has already drawn a parallel between better health outcomes of Indigenous patients when the treating doctor is of the same ethnic background. 

"I don’t see why this finding wouldn’t also apply to other communities," he said.

Professor Gary Jennings

Dr Clara Chow, leading cardiologist and academic director of Cardiac Services at Westmead Hospital, said that while it’s possible that the findings could apply to Australians, it does have a number of flaws.

“The paper is not accounting for a lot of things that may vary in the relationship that they've looked at. But it certainly is an interesting association,” she said.  

While the article didn’t conclusively indicate why women have disproportionately poorer outcomes than men, Chow said it raised an interesting factor in the equation.

“The whole thing concerns me that women have poorer outcomes compared to men when it comes to men when it comes to such a common condition, heart attack, which is a leading cause of death amongst men and women."

Dr Clara Chow

Addressing the gender imbalance in the number of medical professionals could help to improve these outcomes, Jennings said.

“There are far more men than women and part of the message from this is that we’ve got to make it more attractive for women to enter the profession.”

Chow noted that the research indicated that gender balance in doctors could potentially improve outcomes in patients who have experienced heart attack.

According to Chow, it is critical that if women experience symptoms that are concerning, they aren’t afraid to speak up and visit their clinicians.

“They need to speak what they think and ask questions and not hide their symptoms. As a clinician you see men and women do present differently and tend to not be as worried about health as a male with chest pain would be. They need to speak up for themselves.”

The most common risk factors affecting women are high cholesterol, high rates of overweight and obesity and high rates of physical inactivity.

Preeclampisa and gestational diabetes can also increase your risk of heart attack.

If you experience any of these, consult your healthcare professional.